Brexit: Armageddon on hold


I wonder if there could be anything more dispiriting than watching Andrew Marr interview David Davis on his show – other than having to go back and read the transcript afterwards?

Between the soft questions and stupid answers, you end up no further forward and, at the end of the programme, just an hour longer. As far as the Irish border question goes, for instance, Davis is still prattling about Authorised Economic Operators and the use of technology to avoid a hard border, and even calls in aid the European Parliament report produced by Lars Karlsson, the former head of the World Customs Organisation.

By coincidence, this was picked up by Booker in his column yesterday (no paywall) when he noted that "our more reckless Brexiteers" have since last November waxed lyrical about the report.

To them, it seemed to offer a miraculous solution to an intractable problem, more so as its author was able to claim impeccable credentials. In one fell swoop, he presented the answer to the Irish riddle, arguing that it lay in a version of the system that allows goods to flow pretty freely between Norway and his native Sweden.

Helpfully, to a wider audience, Booker recorded how, last Wednesday, Dr Karlsson had been attentively received by the Commons Brexit committee, to lay out his plan for a "smart border" between the two parts of Ireland, which could resolve the impasse that for months has threatened to derail Brexit talks.

The only snag, he tells his readers, was that, as a customs man, Dr Karlsson focused entirely on "customs controls", completely failing to address those other "border controls" which are by far the more serious part of the problem.

Nothing he said would do anything to avoid the need for Border Inspection Posts, where, under EU rules, all live animals and "products of animal origin", from milk to fish, will require inspections by officials wholly unconnected with customs.

The same applies to the Designated Points of Entry required to inspect all plant and vegetable products (right down to the wooden pallets used in transporting them).

All these items, Booker says, "form a very significant part of the currently "frictionless" cross-border trade between the two parts of Ireland, worth billions of pounds a year. But leaving the EU will make a "hard border inevitable".

The terrifying thing, though, was that not a single MP seemed to realise that what Dr Karlsson was offering would solve nothing at all; any more than they grasped that the reason why goods can flow so freely between Norway and Sweden is that they are both in the European Economic Area, which Theresa May is determined we shall leave.

Thus, we ended up with another example of Brexit wishful thinking: the blind again leading the blind.

If it were not for Booker, though, this little episode would have got even less publicity than it did, reflecting the gradual withdrawal of the media from reporting the technical details of Brexit.

This is almost a re-run of the 1970-72 accession negotiations where Con O'Neil reported in his book that, "towards the end of the negotiations, journalists in Brussels had become so thoroughly bored with the multiplicity of highly technical subjects still under discussion and were ready to be content with fairly superficial information".

Some 46 or so years later, the media haven't even got to the halfway mark before giving up the ghost. Thus, while the newspapers this weekend should have been devoted to an analysis of Mrs May's "surrender", the main preoccupation was the Observer story on the machinations of Vote Leave.

Yet, in some instances, it's perhaps just as well that the media is taking no notice of proceedings, not least the day following Dr Karlsson's evidence when the Brexit Committee had David Bannerman in to talk about his "SuperCanada trade model".

This, presumably, is a re-worked version of his earlier EEA-lite plan from four years ago, calculated to capitalise on the latest fashionable nostrums.

Reading it, we suffer some of the same sense of depression that we get when confronting the outpourings of David Davis – yet another pompous, elderly white man who really doesn't know what he's talking about, and insists on taking every possible opportunity to demonstrate that fact.

From his evidence, what especially rings the alarm bells is his casual discussion about conformity with standards, where he expresses preference for "mutual recognition" as against equivalence, as if the former was actually on offer – or even attainable – from the European Union. But once again, we get the MPs sucking up the misinformation, in this case with the questioning eagerly led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Behind the scenes, readers, with a far better grasp of the issues, are talking to their own MPs, but it is an uphill struggle. Against the legions of false prophets and the indifference of the media, the task of informing our representatives is almost beyond the scope of mere mortals. As I've observed before, the tragedy is that these people will have to learn the hard way.

Nevertheless, although we will be watching with interest today, so see what Mrs May reports to the House of her Brussels adventure, it looks as if we must start getting used to the idea that the "vassal state" transition will go ahead – in all probability, virtually unchanged.

The implications of this will take a while to sink in, but the most important thing it does is turn Brexit day on 29 March 2019 (or the day after) into a non-event. For all practical purposes, we will still be in the EU. As the status quo option, it will ensure that the traffic runs freely through Dover to the continent. There will be no queues, no shortages in the shops and no great drama.

No doubt, there will be those who will see in this the opportunity to dismiss our fears as "scaremongering", but if all Mrs May has got in the locker to take over when the transition period ends is a Canada-style free trade area, then she has only kicked the cannery down the road. The cliff-edge will still be there, looming on the horizon.

In many respects, though, it will be a slow-motion disaster, with Brexit casting a long shadow. The prospect of quitting the EU, says Reuters, "has hurt sentiment in Britain's finance industry for longer than the global financial crisis that plunged economies into recession and destroyed some of the world’s biggest banks".

There seems to me, though, no point in expecting either media or politicians to recognise the danger (those that might want to prevent it) – not until it's too late. Their institutions have long since shown their inability to cope with the detail required, and I can't see things improving on their own.

Yet, with Armageddon on hold, the media is free to play its shallow games and, for the next week or so we may have to tolerate still more coverage on the Cambridge Analytica / Vote Leave drama that the Guardian group is working so hard on.

There may even be useful spin-offs from this, especially if it weakens Mrs May's loathsome foreign secretary, and damages some of the figures behind Vote Leave. Even then, it is a distraction we could do without, even if we have a year or more to think about what to do when the cliff edge approaches once again.

Oddly enough, despite those who were so keen to predict its demise, Flexcit is even more relevant, as it still points the way to a workable departure. And never more has The Harrogate Agenda been necessary, if for no other reason than to escape the political tribalism about which Sam Hooper writes so eloquently.

In the early autumn, we've been thinking in terms of holding a conference in London, under the and/or THA banner. It would be helpful to have readers' observations on the utility of this, and how we might proceed. This might be a better option than simply counting down the days to disaster.

Richard North 26/03/2018 link

Brexit: the truth about our passports


The comments facility on Booker's column today is not open, which is perhaps just as well. He's writing about passports and the "familiar cry" that, on leaving the European Union, we will be able to reclaim "British sovereignty" and "take back control of our own laws".

The article is based on my post and one could imagine more than a few heads exploding by the time Sunday Telegraph readers have finished reading it.

Taking them head on, Booker asks many of those who happily intone the "sovereignty" and "taking back control" mantras have any idea just how many of the laws we imagine to have been imposed on us by the EU in fact originate from mysterious global bodies even higher than Brussels, which merely passes them on to us?

This is provocative stuff, of course – and especially to those who have been especially antagonistic towards Booker over the past months. These are the ones who have been posting increasingly acerbic comments, seeking to call into question his judgement but mainly just displaying their ignorance and bad manners.

Booker, on the other hand, is writing about laws which, on leaving the EU, we will find that, under a maze of international agreements, we still have to obey.

This then brings him to "all that excitement before Christmas" over the thought that we will no longer have to carry those widely hated burgundy-coloured "European Union" passports. As Theresa May herself tweeted: "The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty - symbolising our citizenship of a proud, great nation".

For additional entertainment, we also saw one newspaper front page trumpeting: "Make them in Britain", evidently unaware that we are bound by international procurement rules, not just those of the EU but also those of the World Trade Organisation.

These rules, says Booker, would require us to put out production of our new passports to international tender. Thus, we could well find our new UK passports being made by an EU country.

As for their contents, we shall find that almost every detail is also dictated by other international rules, so that they are recognised by every country in the world.

The ultimate arbiter of all these technical requirements is a UN body called the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), headquartered in Canada. It is to the ICAO we will have to submit the design of our new passports.

So it comes to pass that virtually the only detail we will be allowed to choose for ourselves will be the colour of our passports and, of course, the right to remove the words "European Union" from the front (which, according to some, we had anyway).

Thus, as far as our passports go, the only reward for all that prodigious effort of leaving the EU is to put us on a par with the independent countries making up the European Free Trade Association. And the colour we seem likely to choose is the same as that already used by little Iceland.

All of this, as Booker rightly points out, turns Mrs May's expression of our "independence and sovereignty" as a "proud great nation" into so much eyewash.

Looking at this in the round, it's as well we didn't go to all the trouble of campaigning to leave the EU just to change the colour of our passports and the wording on the front covers. There had to be something more than that.

When it comes to sovereignty, though, one of my earlier posts puts this issue into perspective. It illustrates my lack of concern over our supposed loss of sovereignty to Brussels, as I point out that the real issue is the sovereignty of the people.

There's a broader clue to this issue in that the original changes to our passport covers were triggered by a non-binding Council decision. Thus, it wasn't Brussels that enforced the changes. It was our own government.

Similarly, when it came to our membership of the EU, it wasn't Brussels that kept us tied to the treaties but, once again, our own government – aided and abetted by parliament.

Even as an EU member state, parliament was still sovereign but it allowed government, through the process of treaty ratification, to delegate much of its power to Brussels and EU institutions. At any time, it could have stopped power draining away from Westminster and ordered our government to recover the powers it had already given away.

As I was writing in 2016, therefore – before the referendum – our argument was not with Brussels. We were held in thrall to the European Union by our governments, but only because parliament allowed it. The people responsible – as a collective – were our MPs. Our argument was with them, and it took a referendum to overcome their inertia.

Now, in what amounts to the ultimate in arrogance, MPs pontificate about regaining the sovereignty of parliament and mention nothing about the people. This, of course, is where The Harrogate Agenda comes in.

What I wrote in 2016 still stands. MPs who had been so careless of their powers, and so indifferent to the prospect of recovering them could hardly be trusted to safeguard them for all time, and not to repeat their give-away. On that basis, I argued that we the people must recover our sovereignty, wresting it from a parliament which has been so reluctant to use it on our behalf.

Meanwhile, as if we didn't know already, Lord Adonis tells us that the entire system of government has become dysfunctional. "Good government", he says, "has essentially broken down in the face of Brexit. Normal standards of conduct are not being observed. Independent advice is being dismissed because remember experts were supposedly part of the problem".

In the view of the noble Lord, all the experts in Whitehall are trying to square the circle of leaving the EU, the Single Market, the customs union without undermining British trade and British jobs. But since that is an impossibility, even the best minds in Whitehall are not able to do it.

And also confirming what we are hearing from other sources, Adonis tells us that there is very low morale in Whitehall because almost no civil servants agree with the policy of the government. "I do not think there has ever been a period when the civil service has been more disaffected from the government it serves", he says.

One of those "other sources" is British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) director general Adam Marshall. Declaring that firms wanted clarity and results from the Government, he says that industry is dismayed by "division and disorganisation" across Westminster.

In the 18 months since the referendum, therefore, the only tangible thing we have to show for all our efforts is Mrs May's blue passports – her equivalent to buying off the natives with baubles and beads.

Sadly, too many people are content with the beads. The sovereignty that so many thought would be the prize from Brexit remains as elusive as ever it was.

Richard North 31/12/2017 link

Brexit: Barnier - "that is not possible"


In the wake of Mrs May's Lancaster House speech in January, I wrote that her idea of a "bold and ambitious" free trade agreement with the EU inside two years was not just difficult. "It is impossible", I said. "It cannot be done. And it doesn't matter how many times it is discussed amongst the chattering classes, it still can't be done".

Just to re-emphasise the point, in March, I wrote a whole post under the title "impossible means impossible", where I reminded people of my view, that the commitment to securing a free trade agreement (signed and ratified) within two years, was akin to a British commander addressing his troops on Salisbury Plain, telling them they were to invade Iraq the next day – but they had to walk all the way from the UK.

But then who am I? Just a mere "blogger", with the best part of 40 year campaigning under my belt and 14 years devoted to writing about the EU – with the most comprehensive published exit plan yet written under my belt. Clearly, I'm a know-nothing – not even an "expert" who knows so much more than us mere plebs.

Mostly, people like me, therefore, can either be ignored (apart from the inconvenient fact that we've had upwards of 50,000 people in a day on this site). If we persist, the bubble-dwellers excel in treating non-conformist views with utter contempt.

But then, some four years after we first started writing seriously that the "free trade" option for Brexit is a non-starter (only to have the wondrous IEA, along with Lord Lawson, reject the warning), we now have somebody else pop up and say more or less the same things.

This time, though, it just happens to be Michel Barnier, speaking in Brussels to the European Economic and Social Committee. As the chief EU negotiator for Brexit, this man has a certain status – and in this man's world, status is everything. To get a hearing, you must have status (aka "prestige"), and once you have it (or been given it by the media), the media listens.

At this event, speaking "frankly and sincerely" on the theme of Brexit, M. Barnier pulls no punches, taking his line straight out of the Flexcit playbook. "There will be no business as usual", he says. "The UK will become a third country at the end of March 2019".

The number of times we've seen the Muppets on the Booker column comments and elsewhere deny this is legion. There is nothing quite so calculated to wind up the kippoid tendency as to point out this simple fact. I even wrote a post on precisely this point, but they still don't get it.

Anyhow, here we have M. Barnier stating the obvious (and not for the first time), but this time he goes further. The UK government, he says, has defined a number of "red lines" for the future relationship. Mrs May, Davis and the rest of the motley crew, want no more free movement for EU citizens, full autonomy over UK laws, autonomy to conclude its own trade agreements and no role for the ECJ.

This, says Barnier, implies leaving the single market and leaving the EU Customs Union – and he's not wrong in saying that. But he goes on to say that, "on the EU side, we made three things very clear". The particular point he and others have been making is that "free movement of persons, goods, services and capital are indivisible", on the basis that "We cannot let the single market unravel".

Not to put too fine a point on this, however, the doctrine of indivisibility applies only to EU Member States. It does not apply to Efta/EEA states, where both Iceland and Liechtenstein have modified the "four freedoms" without causing the Single Market to unravel.

Nevertheless, Barnier lays out his pitch: "There can be no sector by sector participation in the single market: you cannot leave the single market and then opt-in to those sectors. You cannot be half-in and half-out of the single market". He then adds:
The EU must maintain full sovereignty for deciding regulations: the EU is not only a big marketplace. It is also an economic and social community where we adopt common standards. All third countries must respect our autonomy to set rules and standards. And I say this at the moment when the UK has decided to leave this community and become a third country.
That is fighting talk if ever I saw it. It's also bullshit – but never mind, Barnier probably believes it. He is, at his heart, a French politician – and they have the ability to believe ten contradictory things before breakfast. They then rest until dinner, so the end of the day count is the same. But a pre-breakfast count is so much more impressive.

However, those are his red lines, and one can almost hear the echoes of Verdun: Ils ne passerons pas. These three points, he says, were already made clear by the European Council and the European Parliament. But, he says, "I am not sure whether they have been fully understood across the Channel".

That is something of an understatement, but deserves repeating: "I am not sure whether they have been fully understood across the Channel". This is what is known as diplomacy. Barnier knows full well that they haven't been "fully understood". All he has to do is tune into the drivel filling the UK media, day after day, after day.

Thus, he says: "I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits", to which he adds, with disarming frankness: "that is not possible".

He then says: "I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a custom union to achieve 'frictionless trade'", to which he adds, with disarming frankness, "that is not possible".

"The decision to leave the EU has consequences", says Barnier. "And we have to explain to them, the businesses and civil society on both sides of the Channel, what these consequences mean for them". He adds: "Let me be clear: these consequences are the direct result of the choices made by the UK, not by the EU. There is no punishment for Brexit. And of course no spirit of revenge. But Brexit has a cost, also for business in the EU27".

Rubbing the salt in the wound, Barnier says that, "Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, at midnight on 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will at the present stage be a third State, which will therefore not have the same facilities and rights as a State Member of the European Union. It's its choice. Not ours".

This, apart from anything else, is as clear a statement as any that we will not have anything like the "bold and ambitious" free trade deal that Mrs May wants". All Barnier is prepared for is travail préparatoire, with no question of concluding a deal.

As to trade in general, he reminds us that Member States benefit from a "frictionless" trade for goods because they form part of the internal market. This, he says, has made it possible to harmonise the rules or to ensure their mutual recognition by ensuring that goods lawfully produced in one Member State can be sold in all the other Member States without further formalities.

He further argues that there is little use in having no customs duties if at the same time divergent national regulations prevent products from circulating freely – thus highlighting the problem of non-tariff barriers. Only the combination of the Customs Union and the rules of the internal market allows us to trade freely, "without friction". One does not go without the other.

By choosing to leave the Union, Barnier then says, the UK moves to the other side of the external border. This not only delimits the customs union, but also the space for the adoption and application of internal market rules. That is exactly the point I made in February, using the analogy of a medieval walled city. And, as Barnier says, it's our choice."

Inevitably, Barnier concludes, "a trade relationship with a country that does not belong to the European Union obviously involves frictions". For example, economic operators from third countries do not enjoy the same facilities as the Member States on VAT returns.

For another country, he says, 100 percent of imports of live animals and products of animal origin - and this is a former Minister of Agriculture who is talking - is and will be subject to controls. There it is – for the first time from a public figure, you get what I've been saying on this blog again and again and again. What price the racehorse industry now?

Barnier goes to some trouble to emphasise this point. The border of the European Union, he says, it is one of the challenges that we must face in Ireland's unique case, without recreating a hard frontier. He adds:
On the other hand, the general sanitary and phytosanitary conditions of such exports must always be established before the export of a product of this nature from a third country to the European Union is possible. We can clearly see, if I speak frankly, the constraints that are there, especially for the agri-food sector.
He then further reminds us that these constraints apply equally to all companies that derive their dynamism from the integration of production centres in Europe within the common market.

As to the "no deal", scenario, this says Barnier, means a return to the status quo. In the case of Brexit, "no deal" would be a return to a distant past. It would mean that our trade relations with the UK would be based on WTO rules. It would be a good idea to have the customs duties of almost 10 percent on an average of 19 percent for alcoholic beverages, and an average of 12 percent on lamb and also fish, for which the vast majority of British exports go to the EU.

While leaving the customs union in any case involves border formalities, "no deal" would mean very cumbersome procedures and controls, without facilitation. This would be particularly damaging for companies operating on a "just in time" basis.

In practice, he warns, "no deal" would worsen the "lose-lose" situation which is bound to result from Brexit. Objectively, he thinks, the UK would have more to lose than its partners. He is thus entirely unequivocal. "I therefore want to be very clear", he says, "to my mind there is no reasonable justification for the 'no deal' scenario. There is no sense in making the consequences of Brexit even worse".

Whether this sinks in, I don't know. But for many months, on this blog, I've been attempting to spell out the problems and consequences of leaving the Single Market, and going for the "no deal" scenario – only to be derided or ignored. Booker has had much the same treatment, with his own management undermining him in the letters pages.

Now, chickens are coming home to roost. Says Barnier: "Business should assess, with lucidity, the negative consequences of the UK's choice on trade and investment. And prepare to manage them". Of course, most of business hasn't. With some honourable exceptions, they've had their heads in the sand – or been pursuing a far more sinister agenda.

Ironically, one of my commenters yesterday posted on my article about Grenfell Tower some detail on Cameron's Damascene conversion to the Norway option. He prefaced it by saying: "to move away from Grenfell and back to Brexit for a moment…".

I can quite understand the point, but my response was that, in pursuing the truth behind Grenfell Tower, "we never left Brexit". Forces which brought us the Grenfell disaster are the key to understanding Brexit.

Note here that Barnier refers to the UK "red line" of "full autonomy over UK laws", reflecting the Vote Leave slogan of: "Let's take back control". But what we also have to recall is that Vote Leave was not a people's campaign. It was funded mainly by a small number of very rich business people, who saw in Brexit an opportunity to promote a "deregulation" agenda for their own commercial advantage.

It is no coincidence that these same people are inimically hostile to the "Norway option". In an attempt to stop it happening, they are supporting the Leave means leave campaign, the Tory "ultra" European Research Group" and, latterly, the secretive Red Tape Initiative.

These groups are supporting their paymasters who see in Brexit profit-creating opportunities which would be limited if we were still bound by the Single Market acquis represented by the Efta/EEA (aka "Norway") option.

Deregulation, of course, can be no bad thing (although I have long preferred the term "re-regulation"). But, as we've been seeing with Grenfell, the problem can just as easily be that existing regulation is not rigorous enough, with progress held back by the EU.

Thus, while returning control of the legislative agenda affords the chance to make our own laws (as long as they don't conflict with international standard-setting), this does not necessarily imply getting rid of laws. Many should stay, and be tougher – remember horse meat, anyone?

The thing is, "Let's take back control" never did mean restoring control to the people. Whether in the EU or supposedly as an independent nation, in Vote Leave's scheme of things, we don't get a look in. In the view of its wealthy business backers, control goes to born-to-rule Tories, who will look after their friends by reducing their legislative "burdens".

In this, Monbiot does have a point, except that he just wants the control to pass from "big business" to his green NGOs. He and his likes are no more interested in giving power back to the people than are the Tory right.

Thus – even if for the wrong reasons – Monbiot has correctly identified Grenfell Tower as a key Brexit battlefield. But if the question is: "who rules Britain" (or the UK) - as between business and unelected NGOs (his preferred NGOs) – he wants his green NGOs to take the prize. Nowhere in Monbiot's scenario do the people even feature.

Our battle, therefore, is in ensuring that we have a measured exit from the EU and that when powers are eventually returned from Brussels, they go back to the people, rather than just to a different set of masters. That is why Flexcit in its Phase 6, includes The Harrogate Agenda.

For the time being, though, the "mad deregulators" are driving the Brexit agenda up a dangerous cul-de-sac. It is that totally selfish agenda which is blocking a sensible approach to the Article 50 talks and is the real reason why the right is blocking the Efta/EEA option. But, as Pete points out , deregulation is not a viable option. It isn't going to happen. Thus, if we are going to make any progress, we are going to have to reclaim the agenda, and put the "deregulators" back in their box.

And that has to be possible, or Brexit will be a disaster. But then, readers of this blog already knew that.

Richard North 07/07/2017 link

Brexit: taking us for fools


Just a few days before a general election ostensibly called to settle the question of who negotiates Brexit, we should not be seeing saturation media coverage on a terrorist act that occurred on Saturday evening.

The essential response to such outrages, as even this Prime Minister concedes, it that we should seek, as far as possible, to maintain "business as usual". That must include the media. Three attention-seeking murderers should not be allowed to hijack the campaign and dictate the agenda.

Not least, Prime Minister May needs to be called to account for the presidential style of this election, where we're seeing personal letters (illustrated) with no obvious reference to the Conservative Party, telling us (Mrs EU Referendum and myself) that "your local votes in Bradford South will decide who will be the Prime Minister to lead these negotiations on behalf of our country".

This is on the edge of trashing our constitution. In this country, we vote for our local representatives. The leader of the winning party becomes the prime minister and is given the opportunity to form a government. We do not elect our prime ministers, and the person in office remains only with the continued support their party.

The irony here is that, as did David Cameron resign, leaving Mrs May to take the premiership – with absolutely no involvement of the electorate – so too could Mrs May decide to move on. Alternatively, for a variety of reasons, she could be deposed, if not immediately at some time in the future, should the negotiations stall, or go in the "wrong" direction. In either event, we could end up with Mr Johnson.

If Mrs May want to campaign to change the constitution, creating the office of an elected prime minister, then we would be happy to assist her. After all, the third demand of The Harrogate Agenda calls for the prime ministers to be directly elected by popular vote.

We would have them, in the manner of American presidents, appointing their own ministers, with the approval of parliament. Neither our prime ministers nor their ministers should be MPs, thereby allowing Parliament to perform its proper function of scrutinising and controlling the executive, without being compromised by the "payroll vote".

But, without formal constitutional change, it is presumptuous of Mrs May to appeal directly to voters for a personal vote that isn't ours to give, and which she cannot rightly claim.

What she is, in effect doing, is setting herself above the system. In theory – if not practice – we go to the polls to elect a representative who will best represent the local interest, one who supports a party which meets with our general approval.

It has been a long time since this was true, and many voters go to the polls without knowing the name of the candidate they intend to vote for. They rely on the party identifications on the ballot papers.

That said, when we go to the polls on Thursday (those of us that can bear it), Mrs May's name won't be on the ballot paper. In this strongly-held Labour seat, though, both main parties - Labour and Conservative – are fielding women, both out of electoral calculus. Because one party does so, the other follows. This is not a game I care for. It is a further abuse of the electoral process and I am disinclined to vote for either.

Nor am I inspired by the latest Conservative leaflet, masquerading as an electoral communication. It devotes most of the space to Mrs May, who tells us that "making Brexit a success is central to our national interest".

She then tells us that she has ensured that "my government" has clearly set out our approach to Brexit, though her Lancaster House Speech, the White Paper, the Article 50 letter to the European Council and the Great Repeal Bill. But since the White Paper and the Article 50 letter simply reiterate the vague 12 points enumerated in her Lancaster House speech, the lady is taking us for fools. Her approach to the negotiations is anything but clear.

Sadly, though, the legacy media has gone AWOL. Its single-issue incontinence has virtually driven Brexit off the agenda, while it indulges itself in its orgy of coverage on the latest terrorist atrocity. And while one would not expect coverage on this matter to be slight, one sees in the media people who welcome the distraction and the excuse not to cover a topic which they find overly challenging.

Thus, we have the worst of all possible worlds. Supposedly a "Brexit election" with the prime minister claiming a personal mandate, we have gone through this entire campaign with attention directed at anything but Brexit, now to finish off the final few days with focus on terrorism and related issues – such as police numbers and Mrs May's record in the Home Office.

It has always been the case though that general elections are very poor vehicles for pursuing specific issues. They are, primarily, a mechanism for choosing governments. For Mrs May to use it to define her mandate is an abuse of process.

Arguably, she should have set out her approach and put it to another referendum. After all, in terms of voter participation, there is no difference in the effort required: in both cases we go to the polling station and mark pieces of paper with crosses.

With a single issue referendum, there would have been no distraction from what are – despite their seriousness – extraneous matters. And had the mandate been rejected, then Mrs May could have resigned or sought a general election. But at least, for the time of the campaign, we would have been discussing the thing we are supposed to be voting on, rather than have politicians and media avoiding it.

Sadly, though, tradition, habit and bovine conformity will have obedient citizens lining up to vote – even if probably the vast majority of people regard this election as a charade. That, most likely – and probably more than anything – accounts for the volatility and variability in the polls. Most people may not know the details, but they can sense when they are being taken for granted or manipulated.

And when it comes down to it, it probably doesn't make much difference who is at the helm during the negotiations. Although many people – and some who should know better – seek to personalise the process, it is quite remarkable how little depends on personalities and negotiating style.

Almost all the details are resolved at official level – the famous "sherpas" - with the outcomes determined by reference to pre-determined "positions" which can only with difficulty be changed. And since the EU has very much the whip hand, most of the process will be one of conceding a series of technical points to the "colleagues".

There will be few high-level meetings, involving heads of states – and in the tradition of such events, the outcomes will be decided upon before the parties agree to meet. The process itself, is always theatre.

Given that, and my own very personal dislike of the local electoral manipulation, I am not prepared to give Mrs May a "blank cheque" for a mandate, the nature of which she has not specified – while she compounds the insult by pretending she has.

On the other hand, while the Labour pitch might be better, one can have even less confidence in the ability of the Labour team to deliver – notwithstanding that there will be little to choose between the end result, if the "colleagues" are able to drive events.

In common with many, therefore, I am struggling to decide where to place my vote. If there was a "none of the above" option, that would be my preference. Failing that, a spoiled vote is beginning to look enormously attractive.

But the one thing one must do is vote. Spoiled votes are counted, and a high proportion would send a message. And if Mrs May wants an elected prime minister system, I would be very happy to vote for that. All we need is another referendum.

Richard North 06/06/2017 link

Booker: the great unmentionables


As usual when another election comes along, Booker tries to point out some of those hugely important issues which won't be getting discussed, because all the parties agree not to notice them.

The irony, in my view, is that although this is supposed to be the "Brexit election", the one thing that won't be discussed in any detail is the way we should be leaving the EU. At best (or worst), I fear that all we're going to get is a half-hearted re-run of the referendum campaign to the counterpoint of ritual cries about the Single Market.

Anyhow, high on Booker's list in this week's column is the energy future we face under the Climate Change Act, where our politicians have all happily nodded through a "decarbonisation" policy whereby we shall before long be phasing out all those remaining fossil-fuel power stations which still provide more than half our electricity, to rely instead on grotesquely subsidised "renewables" and imaginary nuclear power stations which show little sign of getting built.

Scarcely any MP has yet shown any sign of recognising what a disaster this is heading us for. The only mentions it is likely to get in coming weeks will be virtue-signalling manifesto references to the need for yet more unreliable renewables.

That is fair enough but, because of the EU links, this is probably a downstream issue – for the next election rather than this one – and then only after we have has a serious public debate on energy. For the moment, we have to concentrate on Brexit.

Even less mentioned, says Booker, will be the scandalous state of our "child protection" system and the family courts, as almost every month the number of children being removed from their families continues to break records, far too many of them for wholly inadequate reasons.

The only MP who ever properly recognised the nature of this tragedy was the Lib Dem John Hemming, who lost his seat in 2015, and it is now lost to view in the one place, Parliament, with the power to try to bring this corrupted system back to its original laudable intentions.

This, though, demonstrates the inadequacy of the electoral system. It is never going to be the case that the nation chooses a government on such narrow issues – no matter how worthy they are.

We need separate mechanisms, outside the framework of a general election, to be able to address such failures. Here, there is an excellent opportunity for The Harrogate Agenda, which would permit a referendum on the Childrens' Act, with a view to seeking its abolition.

Next in Booker's line of fire is public spending. This makes for his third unmentionable: our still soaring national debt, due to rise again this year, from a mere £316 billion at the turn of the century, to £1,829 billion – the interest payable on which, £52 billion, is alone way ahead of our spending on national defence.

We may hear much about those damaging "cuts", on everything from the NHS and care of the elderly to our schools and police. But how often are we told that public spending rose last year from £761 billion to £784 billion, and is due this year to hit £797 billion.

These are the figures supplied to Parliament for every MP to study, but since not one of them has any idea what to do about it, it's all best pushed under the carpet. And, if you are standing for Labour or the Lib Dems, you can just stick to complaining about those dreadful "cuts".

Finally, of course, there is Brexit, where all the indications are, from an increasingly stern Brussels and from the implications of Theresa May's decision that we should shut ourselves out of the single market, that we may end up in a situation much worse than most people yet realise or than what we have now.

It is always a danger sign, Booker says, when all our politicians agree on taking some great leap in the dark, without giving any proper thought to where it may lead; as it was when 463 MPs voted in 2008 for the Climate Change Act, without any of them asking how in practice we could cut down our "carbon emissions" by four fifths within 40 years without shutting down virtually our entire economy.

We similarly saw 494 MPs voting to send Mrs May on her way to Brussels, without having any idea what this may lead to. They have no idea that, in just two years, she will be able not only to agree a unique deal which somehow allows us to carry on trading with our largest export market and the source of 30 per cent of our food much as we do now.

Still less do our MPs have any sensible suggestions on how to sort out the thousand and one other issues needing to be resolved, from foreign and security policies to agriculture and fisheries: even how airliners from Britain can continue to enjoy free access to the "single European sky".

But, Booker concludes, at least she will be able to enjoy her huge election victory before some very uncomfortable realities begin to break in, and she will avoid having to face the country again in 2020, when the results of her negotiations are evident for all to see.

And it is then, when she has sorted those details that the truth of Brexit will emerge. Far from being a solution to our problems, it is just an enabler. After Brexit, Mrs May will not be able to hide behind "Brussels".

It is then that she will have to work out what is to be done about our suicidal national energy policy and how to pay the interest on a national debt which by then could have topped £2 trillion.

Richard North 23/04/2017 link

Brexit: taking cover from a tsunami


Anyone who recalls the coverage of the 2004 tsunami will doubtless recollect the graphic testimony of survivors – those who recognised that the only way they were going to stay alive was to run for high ground.

In a way, metaphorically, we are in a similar situation with the media coverage of Brexit. The collective has decided that the issue of the moment is the High Court judgement, and nothing is going to stop the torrent of analysis and speculation. One can only run for high ground and wait for the surge to abate before returning to the scene and attempting to clear up the wreckage.

It really doesn't matter how often one says that the High Court judgement was only the first stage of the process, one which will have no lasting effect. All too soon, it will be replaced by the Supreme Court's judgement, which may or may not be completely different.

Nevertheless it was good to have an intervention from Prime Minister Theresa May, although I take a dim view of the Telegraph hiding a statement of such public importance behind its paywall. When the Prime Minister speaks, her words should be freely accessible.

This is even more the case when her "take" on the issue challenges the claim that the Government should not begin the process of withdrawing from the European Union without the permission of MPs and members of the House of Lords.

Says Mrs May: "This may appear to be a debate about process, and the legal argument is complex, but in reality there is an important principle at stake. Parliament voted to put the decision about our membership of the EU in the hands of the British people".

She goes on: "The people made their choice, and did so decisively. It is the responsibility of the government to get on with the job and to carry out their instruction in full. MPs and peers who regret the referendum result need to accept what the people decided".

That, of course, more than adequately summarises the issue. By agreeing to a referendum, parliament quite deliberately transferred the responsibility for deciding whether the UK stays in the EU to the people. As we have remarked before, even the dimmest of MPs must have understood that, if the people voted against continued membership, then the government would have no option but to react.

The sub-plot, however, is that MPs want to use the leverage afforded by a yes-no vote on whether to invoked Article 50 to demand information of the Government's negotiating stance, and thence to refuse permission unless there is a commitment to protect our continued membership of the Single Market.

Only by grossly misreading the signs, however, could anyone come to the conclusion that the Government was minded to do anything else, but it is a facet of recent media coverage that most of the pundits have been consistently wrong in predicting that the preference is for a "hard" Brexit.

From the Marr show, yesterday, though, we can see a variation on this theme, with Farage rejecting the idea of parliamentary intervention simply on the ground that the majority of MPs are likely to argue that Britain must stay part of the single market.

If we end up with that, Andrew Marr helpfully volunteers that that "that's not leaving", whence Farage decides that this is "half Brexit and that's not what we voted for".

I do dislike this presumption on the part of Farage and others. Personally, I voted very much with the idea that we should continue participation in the Single Market after leaving the EU – and am under no illusions that we can leave the EU and do this, by way of remaining in the EEA.

Thus, I am not particularly troubled by the idea that parliament should insist on this. What is of more concern is precisely the point that Mrs May makes, that MPs are seeking to interpose themselves between the people and the government, putting themselves in change of the decision-making process.

Hence, I also object to those pundits who claim that "leavers" were campaigning for a return of parliamentary sovereignty. Some may indeed have had that objective, but there are those of us who want to see more direct democracy – to which effect Phase Six of Flexcit quite explicitly called for implementation of The Harrogate Agenda, with referendums having binding effect on governments.

Only now is Farage beginning to wake up to the idea that a successful extraction from the EU will also require revisiting the constitutional settlement between the peoples of the UK and their government. No longer can we tolerate a situation where our representatives, without seeking our explicit permission, can hand over our power to an alien government.

But there again, Farage's position would be that much more credible if he had come up with a comprehensive exit plan during the referendum campaign – except that he would have rejected the idea of continued EEA membership.

By so doing though, Farage and all the other "antis" are putting themselves on the losing side. By some means or other, the UK will continue participating in the Single Market. The great danger is not that that should happened, but this should be regarded as a permanent solution for Brexit.

In rejecting the option entirely, the "antis" are losing the opportunity to make participation conditional on agreeing a more acceptable end game. Having failed to devise or buy into Flexcit, though, and not having their own end game in mind, they are failing to keep the issue on the agenda. Instead of being seen as just the first stage of the process, the Article 50 settlement could be presented as the final conclusion.

This lack of preparation – parodied in the cartoon we have used - has now become the dominant influence in the coming battle. With no ideas of where we should be going, and knowing only what they don't want, the Faragistas have lost the opportunity to shape events.

Small wonder that Farage is talking about his supporters taking to the streets, but I wonder if he really understands what he is calling for. Essentially, his idea of "leaving" is to wreck the UK economy, without in any way having a credible post-Brexit strategy. Barring the diehards, he is going to find it very difficult to get any support for his nihilistic creed.

Things may calm down once that Supreme Court has published its judgement, but that may not be until the New Year, so it looks as if we're in for another two months or more of tsunami-style coverage of Brexit, with the media getting ever more frenetic.

There are times when I have seriously thought of shutting down my entire operation and concentrating on something useful, rather than suffer this mindless torrent that the media is serving up. But somehow, we have to keep alert for the eventual outbreak of sanity – if it occurs – and keep the flag flying for a rational exit plan.

Richard North 07/11/2016 link

Brexit: waiting for the end game


The media is undergoing one of its periodic frenzies, stripping sense out of what is probably one of the most important – and complex - political issues since the Second World War.

The media as a grouping have been caught out wholesale, trying to deal with something they don't understand. Even worse, they lack the means to make sense of it but, with the arrogance with which they are so often imbued, assume their audiences are as lacking in basic knowledge as they are.

Most grievous of the media sins is to reduce the complexity of Brexit to a simple binary choice between a "soft" and "hard", creating a fictional narrative for alternatives which aren't even on the table – all for want of their ability correctly to analyse and report the actual scenarios confronting government.

Not in a million years could any responsible government beggar the country by opting for what is loosely called the "hard" Brexit, leaving the idea to reside in the foetid brains of the Tory Right wing, and the Brexit zealots, most of whom have as little an idea as the media of what is going on.

Whatever the actual outcome, the Government is going to be focused initially on a Brexit which minimises the economic perturbation. It will do so because it wants to win the 2020 General Election and a Brexit which leaves everyone poorer and an economy in chaos is a sure way to ensure the furniture vans are lined up outside Down Street the morning after the result is declared.

Thus, the question which has to be addressed is the very question that is being ignored by the media and the political noisemakers, that of how the government goes about protecting the nation's economic interests.

To categorise that as a "soft" Brexit, though, is completely to miss the point. When the CBI, the Economist and Chancellor Philip Hammond are all beginning to catch up, referring to "transitional" arrangements, they are recognising that which anyone with a brain had long realised: Brexit is a process, not an event.

Those who do recognise this, and apply their minds to the consequences, realise that there are two issues that have to be addressed. Firstly, the nature of the "transitional" or "interim" arrangements must be identified and, secondly, the end game – about which precious little has been discussed – must be defined.

On the second point, of course, without an end game, a transitional arrangement is not transitional. It becomes the end game. Thus, to sell the whatever the interim scenario it settles upon – which is, by its very nature, going to be sub-optimal – the Government is going to have to put its cards on the table, and start talking about what the EU-UK relationship is going to be looking like in, say, twenty years time.

To that end, it is pointless blathering about a Canadian-style free trade agreement – or any other such arrangement – if the interim option has been to maintain participation in the Single Market. That is the most extensive and sophisticated free market in the world – far more so than CETA or any other second-generation FTA – so it makes little sense to abandon that arrangement for something worse.

If the Government is to make a fist of it, therefore, it is going to have to apply its imagination, and work on the inclination of its learning curve, tilting it decisively in an upwards direction to encompass the effects of globalisation and, in particular, global standards-setting.

But rather than wait for the media to drag its limited brain powers, and even slighter attention span, into the next phase of the argument, the Government is going to have to set the agenda and bring to the public's attention these matters. It is no use waiting for the media to catch up. The average hack has a nose bleed even thinking about such things.

To duck the issue is not an option. There is far too much focus on the immediate mechanics of withdrawal, and no agreement on which option to take. Furthermore, there never will be agreement, as every option available is sub-optimal.

For Government to sell a sub-optimal solution to the public is non-starter, so it must identify its end game, to talk it up and then position its immediate Brexit plan as a stepping stone to the greater good.

Sensible people understand the concept of short-term sacrifice for the long-term good, and the idea of delayed gratification, but if this is to be the Government's strategy (and it is the only credible one), then it has to make the case.

And in this, it has a great deal in common with the other EU Member States. They, like the UK Government, need to drown out the negatives with a positive vision of what a future Europe will look like. And, although we may be taking a divergent path, that does not mean we cannot share a common vision for the continent as a whole.

That makes the essence of the end game a process of turning a negative a positive. Brexit is a serious challenge, but it is also an opportunity. But that opportunity must be spelled out.

On the broader picture, just over a week ago, a few of us were in Leamington Spa, discussing that way forward for The Harrogate Agenda (THA), now that the referendum is over.

Those familiar with Flexcit will know that THA forms phase six of the plan, presented on the answer to UK governance reform. There is no point, we aver, recovering powers from Brussels, only to return them to Parliament and the very people who gave them away in the first place.

Thus, it is not only for Government to spell out its end game. We the people must insist on changes which will ensure that, never again, can our MPs give away our powers to an alien government.

But when it comes to sovereignty, the march of globalisation means that, progressively, much of our legislative power is being vested in a bewildering variety of bodies, with little in the way of transparency and accountability. Leaving the EU, therefore, is not going to solve all our problems. It is a start – a good one, but only a start.

Richard North 10/10/2016 link

THA: another workshop


On Saturday 1 October, we're holding another informal workshop at the Woodland Grange Conference Centre in Leamington Spa (postcode CV32 6RN), to discuss the "way ahead" for The Harrogate Agenda. The venue is available from 10 for an 11.00 am start with a finish around 5.00 pm.

We've deliberately kept numbers low, to maintain an informal, relaxed atmosphere in this high-quality venue, and had been fully booked for some time. However, we've had two late cancellations, for reasons entirely outside their control. We've thus decided to throw open the places on a first come, first served basis.

The cost for the day is £40, including endless tea and coffee and a relaxed, sit-down lunch in the good quality restaurant.

Anyone interested can contact Niall Warry by e-mail via this link. He will be happy to take your booking, or discuss any details with you. Some people are staying the night on Friday, and I gather there are still rooms available for those who want them, at about £105 a room.

For all those who are attending, I look forward to seeing you there. I will report on the meeting afterwards on this blog.

Richard North 21/09/2016 link

EU Referendum: to be a sovereign power


Perceptive readers will have discerned that I have not written a great deal about sovereignty in the current debate on the EU referendum. Most of the references in this blog are quotes from other people, often added without comment from me.

The reason for my reticence is two-fold. Firstly, there is no clear-cut definition of sovereignty. It seems to be a moveable feast, with different people and bodies defining in separate ways, very often in a way that suits their particular arguments.

The second reason is that, taking my own personal definition of sovereignty, I don't accept that the UK either pools its sovereignty with the EU, or has lost sovereignty to it. In accordance with my definition, the UK is still technically a sovereign state. Thus I do not accept or buy into much of the "leave" rhetoric about the need to regain our sovereignty. We still have it.

Problematically, though, this stance does depend entirely on my definition. If you change the definition, my stance could very well change with it. But it can never really be clear-cut.

The Oxford Dictionary, for instance, offers three definitions. It will have sovereignty mean "supreme power or authority", as in the sovereignty of Parliament. It also declares that it is: "the authority of a state to govern itself or another state", as in national sovereignty. And it then takes the word to mean "a self-governing state".

Here, I don't like the idea of sovereignty being "supreme power or authority". Power (and to the same extent authority) is distinct from sovereignty. You can delegate power and transfer authority, which you cannot do with sovereignty.

Furthermore, in the doctrine of division of powers, a sovereign entity can have absolutely no power in specific domains. The sovereign Queen, for instance, is subject to the rule of law.

I can partially go with: "the authority of a state to govern itself or another state". However, I don't like the word "authority" in this context – for the reasons stated above. And the idea of a "self-governing state" simply will not do. I would argue that we are sovereign, but not self-governing. Government – like authority and power – can be delegated.

In the end, I rely on a variation of the definition offered in Wikipedia - not the best or most authoritative of sources, but one which – when modified – serves my purpose. I thus take sovereignty to mean: "The full right of a body to govern without any interference from external body".

The defining words here are "full right" – akin in earlier terms to "divine right". No definition, in my view, is complete without acknowledgement that sovereignty is a right, an absolute right to govern. It is one that is innate. It cannot be challenged, diluted or "pooled".

In the UK, we express our sovereignty in terms of national sovereignty, which defines the extent and limits of its jurisdiction. And then award the ultimate expression of sovereignty to Parliament. Within its domain, Parliament is supreme.

On that basis, we are indeed still sovereign. Parliament, if it so decides, has the right to abrogate the treaties from which the European Union gains its power in the UK. Without those treaties, there is no supremacy of EU law. Unless Parliament decides otherwise, EU law has no writ in this land.

This we get from the egregious Professor Michael Dougan who argues that the UK is an independent state under international law and Westminster is the supreme law-making authority.

Conversely, he says, there is no doubt whatsoever that the EU is not a sovereign entity. Far from being a sovereign state, he adds, it's not even a sovereign entity. It has only those powers that it's been given under the EU treaties. And if the UK courts sometimes give priority to EU law in the event of a conflict with domestic law, it's purely because our Parliament has expressly instructed them to do so.

So, Dougan asks, "is the UK a sovereign state?" Yes, he says. "Is Parliament our supreme legislative authority?" Yes, he says. This leads him to ask why we keep hearing about sovereignty in the EU Referendum debate. The fact is, he says, "sovereignty isn't really an issue in the debate. It's about power and influence. Sovereignty is being used as a short-hand to talk about power".

In terms of this EU Referendum campaign – and generally – this changes the whole picture. The treaties that have been signed represent successive governments delegating not our sovereignty but Parliament's power – its power to make, modify, refuse and repeal legislation.

Parliament is still sovereign but it has allowed government, though the process of ratification, to delegate much of its power to Brussels and EU institutions. It could have stopped that happening and now, in the face of popular consent it could order government to recover those powers. But it chooses not to. Instead, it stands idle.

And that is where Dougan is actually wrong. Sovereignty is part of the debate. If it so wished, Parliament could exercise its sovereignty, not over Brussels but over our own government, insisting that that its powers were returned.

Therefore, our argument is not with Brussels. We are held in thrall to the European Union by our governments, but only because Parliament allows it. The people responsible – as a collective – are our MPs. Our argument is with them.

This actually gives this referendum a very special status. It is our opportunity to address not Brussels but the ranks of politicians – the good, the bad and the ugly. They are so indifferent to their loss of powers, increasingly delegating it to Brussels, that it requires us the people to tell them to get off their backsides and recover them.

It ill-behoves these politicians then to blame Brussels for their loss. It was their predecessors who gave their powers away, and they who permit Brussels to continue exercising them. Having lost their powers, they – or some of them – want us to return them to Westminster. They want us to exercise our sovereignty on their behalf.

And this is where The Harrogate Agenda comes in. The group that has been so careless of their powers, and so indifferent to the prospect of recovering them can hardly be trusted to safeguard them for all time, and not to repeat their give-away. Thus, it is we the people who must recover our sovereignty, wresting it from Parliament which has been so reluctant to use it on our behalf.

That is the back story. Parliament is sovereign, supposedly holding it trust for the people. But, in failing to exercise it, the people themselves must act, and demand the recovery of powers that Parliament has so carelessly given away. And then, with the horse firmly back in the stables, we must bolt the door.

We the people, on Thursday, must make a start in recovering our sovereignty – not from Brussels, but from Westminster. We the people are sovereign, and this week we have an opportunity to exercise it. And if we don't, we the people have only ourselves to blame.

Richard North 21/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: "This is how democracies die"


One of the highlights of my tenure in the European Parliament was what became a monthly ritual in Strasbourg, meeting Ambrose Evans-Pritchard – then Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph - for a boozy dinner on the banks of the little Rhine (pictured). 

As we ate fine food and gazed at the splendid architecture on warm summer evenings, we discussed the affairs of the world, and especially the European Union.

What was especially enjoyable was that, although we shared views on many things, we had some fundamental disagreements. Ambrose, in particular, had a view on the powers of the Council of Ministers and the permanent representatives. They did not entirely accord with mine. I thought the Commission was the more powerful institution.

The ability to disagree with someone on a point and to argue it through in a friendly manner, while being able to agree in principle with most of the rest, marked out our relationship. And I find myself in a similar position when I read his superb article on why we should vote to leave the EU – one accorded the highest accolade by fellow-journalist Mary Ellen Synon.

Getting the disagreement out of the way, when I read the first part of the headline, I thought: "I fundamentally disagree with that", and then set down to think how I could write an emollient piece saying so, without in any way disagreeing with the subsequent premise, that we should leave the EU.

My problem is that headline segment: "Brexit vote is about the supremacy of Parliament and nothing else". And my reservations are simply put. It was Parliament that got us into this mess in the first place - it valued its supremacy so little that it gave it away, step by step. It has then sought to maintain its craven position, in the face of public opposition.

Unable to get a response from Parliament, people have resorted to agitation, the culmination of which is a referendum - a true expression of democracy - where the people decide something the politicians are unable to deal with. Why then should we seek to restore supremacy to the very body which gave away its powers, and which has proved totally inept in trying to regain them?

It was this sentiment that drove The Harrogate Agenda, which forms Phase Six of Flexcit. There is little point, we felt, in struggling to return powers to the body which gave them away in the first place, without taking measures to prevent them ever doing the same thing again. And the way to do that is to strip the supremacy from Parliament and restore it to the people. It is the people who should be sovereign, not Parliament. MPs should be our servants to do our bidding, not our sovereign masters.

With that out of the way, though, we can only applaud to the rafters Ambrose's sentiments. "Let there be no illusion about the trauma of Brexit", he says. "Anybody who claims that Britain can lightly disengage after 43 years enmeshed in EU affairs is a charlatan, or a dreamer, or has little contact with the realities of global finance and geopolitics".

We could not agree more with this. Time after time after time we get these empty-headed fools who tell us that we could conclude an exit settlement in days or even weeks. These people are a dangerous distraction. Their ignorance, bordering on stupidity, denies rationality.

But that, as Ambrose says, is a distraction. Brexit comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.

Here I can afford a private smile as I recall our sometimes intense arguments over the relative powers of Commission and Council. Ambrose hasn't changed his views. I need to beat him up again on the banks of the Little Rhine, over of bottle or two of potent French wine.

However, as long as we do not dwell too much on the meaning of "self-government", we can unite without a moment's hesitation over the need to break away from living under a "higher supranational regime".

Furthermore, we are absolutely in accord with his sentiments about the "leave" campaign. We cannot take our cue from its dire, low-grade arguments. Brexit has nothing to do with payments into the EU budget. Whatever the sum, it is economically trivial, worth unfettered access to a giant market.

Says Ambrose, "We are deciding whether to be guided by a Commission with quasi-executive powers that operates more like the priesthood of the 13th Century papacy than a modern civil service; and whether to submit to a European Court (ECJ) that claims sweeping supremacy, with no right of appeal".

It is whether you think the nation states of Europe are the only authentic fora of democracy, be it in this country, or Sweden, or the Netherlands, or France - where Nicholas Sarkozy has launched his presidential bid with an invocation of King Clovis and 1,500 years of Frankish unity.

The EU as constructed, Ambrose continues: "is not only corrosive but ultimately dangerous, and that is the phase we have now reached as governing authority of crumbles across Europe". The Project, he says, "bleeds the lifeblood of the national institutions, but fails to replace them with anything lovable or legitimate at a European level. It draws away charisma, and destroys it". And, in a telling phrase, he adds: "This is how democracies die".

"They are slowly drained of what makes them democratic, by a gradual process of internal decay and mounting indifference, until one suddenly notices that they have become something different, like the republican constitutions of Athens or Rome or the Italian city-states of the Renaissance", says Lord Sumption of our Supreme Court.

It is a quarter century since Ambrose co-wrote the leader for the Telegraph on the Maastricht summit. He and his co-writer warned that Europe's elites were embarking on a reckless experiment, piling Mount Pelion upon Mount Ossa with a vandal's disregard for the cohesion of their ancient polities.

Yet they reluctantly supported John Major's strategy of compromise, hoping that later events would "check the extremists and put the EC on a sane and realistic path".

This did not happen, as Europe's Donald Tusk confessed two weeks ago, rebuking the elites for seeking a "utopia without nation states" and over-reaching on every front". The Council President declared: "Obsessed with the idea of instant and total integration, we failed to notice that the citizens of Europe do not share our Euro-enthusiasm".

If there were more Tusks at the helm, one might still give the EU Project the benefit of the doubt, says Ambrose. But hard experience - and five years at the coal face in Brussels - tells him others would seize triumphantly on a British decision to remain, deeming it submission from fear. They would pocket the vote. Besides, too much has happened that cannot be forgiven.

In Ambrose's book, the EU crossed a fatal line when it smuggled through Lisbon Treaty, by executive cabal, after the text had already been rejected by French and Dutch voters in its earlier guise. It is one thing to advance the Project by stealth and the Monnet method, it is another to call a plebiscite and then to override the outcome.

He asks whether he needs to remind readers that our own government gave a "cast iron guarantee" to hold a referendum, but retreated claiming that Lisbon was tidying up exercise. It was no such thing. As we warned then, it created a European supreme court with jurisdiction over all areas of EU policy, with a legally-binding Charter of Fundamental Rights that opens the door to anything.

He also asks whether he needs to add that Britain's opt-out from the Charter under Protocol 30 - described as "absolutely clear" by Tony Blair on the floor of the Commons - has since been swept aside by the ECJ.

It is heartening, he says, that our judges have begun to resist Europe's imperial court, threatening to defy any decision that clashes with the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, or the core texts of our inherited constitution. But this raises as many questions as it answers.

For the rest of this long article, you have to go to the original - well worth the effort.

But we need detain ourselves here, briefly, with Ambrose's conclusion. Strangely, after making such a powerful case for leaving the EU, he urges nobody to follow his example. "It ill behoves anyone over 50 to exhort an outcome too vehemently", he says. "Let the youth decide. It is they who must live with consequences".

And there I must finish as I started, with a note of disagreement. The young, still influenced by years of pro-EU propaganda in their schools, colleges, and universities, are in no position to make a decision of such importance. It is too much like asking Komsomol members their opinion of the Soviet Union.

Unsurprisingly, those with more experience and (for some) a little wisdom are more opposed to the EU that the younger generation. For once, the young need to listen to the wisdom of their elders. Otherwise they may decide in ignorance and be forced to repent at leisure – once they have acquired a little wisdom of their own.

In any case, this is by no means a matter just for "youth" - as even Pete declares. We ancients have a dog in the fight: I have no desire to spend my remaining years as a "citizen" of the European Union. I was born British – and I mean to die British.

Richard North 13/06/2016 link

EU Referendum: challenging the collective delusion


So, at last, the full ROSL presentation is on-line, with a permanent link on the sidebar. That link replaces the link to the Dawlish presentation, which had reached a whisker short of 10,000 views. Over term, we expect this presentation to do at least as well.

The video presentation complements the Flexcit book and the pamphlet, the former now totalling just over 70,000 downloads, with just over a thousand in the last month. By any measure, that is an impressive performance which demonstrates that there is real interest in the Flexcit concept.

It should go without saying that we do not expect the Flexcit book to have a run-away popular appeal. Not is there any expectation that the video viewing numbers will soar into the stratosphere. Neither production is designed for the mass market.

The primary purpose, of course, is to provide reassurance. The very fact that it exists is intended to demonstrate that it is possible to devise a sound, credible exit plan. And as long as people have that reassurance, they don't necessarily need the detail.

Had the official "leave" group adopted the work, the sort of claims being made by George Osborne and the like would simply gain no traction.

The odd thing is that when the Chancellor argues that the WTO option might cost £4,300 for each household, we probably wouldn't disagree. If anything, the costs have probably been understated. But what we would also say is that no one in their right mind would even entertain the idea of the WTO option.

Yet, we're seeing precisely that, in a parade of ignorance by the likes of Roger Bootle and the error-strewn Brexit the Movie, which lines up most of the eurosceptic "aristocracy" to repeat the same errors

Personally, I just don't see the point of knocking out dogma and then defending it against all-comers, regarding any criticism as an insult. But that is the "industry standard", where group-think prevails and as long as everybody freely shares their ignorance, error becomes the norm.

Sadly, therefore, being right also means being different – going against the herd which is determined to protect its myths with the same fervour that the Spanish Inquisition acted against heresy. Thus, Flexcit has not been given the welcome that one might have expected.

The oddest thing of all is that, in devising our original scenario, we adopted the line taken by the British negotiating team in its successful attempt to enter the European Community in 1972.

In his report on the negotiations, Con O'Neill wrote a very telling piece on how he came to define his strategy. "First", he said:
…almost every conceivable Community policy or rule or enactment is the resultant of a conflict of interests between the members, and has embedded in it features representing a compromise between these interests. Open it up at any point, and the whole laborious compromise will fall apart …

Second, as in all negotiations, exceptions are dangerous, for they create precedents. Admit a change in this or that case, just because British arguments are strong and you will find it hard to resist changes in other cases where the matter is vital. So the two facets of the Community's principle became embodied in one precept: "Swallow the lot, and swallow it now".
On this basis, the character of the negotiations became one of leaving "relatively minor" matters to be settled after the UK had joined the Community while, in order to expedite the negotiations, the governing precept became, "Swallow the lot …".

Given the two-year time limit and "sudden death" character of the Article 50 negotiations, which would determine the exit settlement for the UK, it seemed to me that the precept which had facilitated our entry could do equal services in assisting us to leave the EU.

My reasoning in this respect was entirely straightforward. It would be far better to gain an exit settlement which was less than optimal than to end up with the catastrophic outcome of leaving without an agreement.

Furthermore, and crucially, I took that view that, unless we were able to show that compromise was possible, we would never secure the confidence of the electorate, and their support in the referendum. In effect, we either convinced the electorate that we were prepared to compromise on our exit expectations, or we would lose the referendum.

Such insight, of course, stems to a very great part from the intensive labour, with Christopher Booker, in researching and writing The Great Deception. And you might have thought that this might afford us some authority when it came to defining the referendum strategy.

In this though, normal rules do not apply. We are dealing with the eurosceptic movement. The grip of this tiny, narrowly-focused and self-centred clique - which we have come to call the eurosceptic aristocracy – is absolute.

Having become besotted by the immigration issue, they had decided that compromise was not acceptable. And with that, they have undergone the laborious self-delusional process of constructing a narrative that would allow them to claim what the EU has told them they cannot have, that we could leave the EU and maintain trading relations without having to make any concessions on freedom of movement.

In this, we are not dealing with rationality. The "aristocracy" have decided on their preferred outcome and anything which conflicts with that has to be marginalised and ignored.

Needless to say, when the real world intrudes, the "preferences" will evaporate but, until that happens, the delusion will sustain the faithful. And that means that Flexcit cannot be allowed to prevail. It is the most dangerous of all things – it challenges the collective delusion.

When this is all over, therefore – win or lose – things are going to have to change. In particular, the way we do politics must change. This Westminster-centric "bubble" has messed up our lives for far too long, and its grip must be broken. 

There is a world outside London – the same world from which Flexcit emerged – and The Harrogate Agenda. Westminster, one must recall, gave its powers to Brussels. Westminster politics is keeping us there. If we are ever to get our freedom, this is not the place we need to be looking.

Richard North 17/05/2016 link

Flexcit the Movie: The Plan – Part 3


I'm bringing forward the publication schedule, as the video clips are up on YouTube and can be accessed from there. Uptake has been very encouraging as Part I has already topped 1,500.

This part opens with me discussing the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) – the redundancy notice for the EU. This is the instrument which requires contracting parties – of which the EU is one – to adopt international standards in preference their own, effectively moving the Single Market legislation up to global level.

To understand the importance of this, one has to understand what the Single Market is, which is why I'm labouring the point so much. As a body of law, it binds the nations which subscribe to it into a trading network, permitting unimpeded trade. And this is happening on a global scale, gradually superseding the EU's limited regional arrangements.

This global market has many advantages, not least that it is intergovernmental rather than supranational. As importantly, it is multilateral – comprising inclusive agreements which are open to anyone who wants to join them, without strings and without political baggage.

With this process happening anyway and the systems already in place, an independent UK is ideally positioned to accelerate the process. Once the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement has been ratified by enough members and enters into force, it will be another powerful tool, in time rendering the EU's market completely redundant.

Progressively, therefore, we expect to see the EU's book of rules become less and less important in our trading arrangements, leading at some point in the future to the complete abolition of the EEA. The transition should be smooth, with the overarching role of UNECE as regional trade coordinator being a logical outcome.

The important thing here is that this scenario is far more attractive than any free trade agreement that might be negotiated with the EU, while the focus on multilateralism relieves us from the tiresome and doubtless unrewarding process of replacing all the trade deals currently in force through the EU.

Perversely, if we ever needed any confirmation that multilateralism is the best route, we can call in aid Cecilia Malmström, the current EU Commissioner for Trade. In a speech just over a week ago in Geneva, she told her audience that "we need to think of multilateral solutions as our first best option".

Far from being an obstacle in our endeavours, the EU is a potential ally. The UK, with Efta, as an equal partner with the EU, working cooperatively to enhance multilateral trading arrangements is an option which would benefit the entire world.

Any such option frees us to rebuild our own policies, free from direct interference from Brussels, work which will take us many years. Policies on fishing, farming, environment, transport and foreign affairs will all have to be painstakingly reconstructed.

This, in my presentation brings us to global trade. With UNECE in place and a commitment to multilateralism, we are already travelling in the right direction. Few people seem to realise that progress in reducing the costs of international trade has stalled. With the emergence of non-tariff barriers, the gains of tariff reductions since the GATT have been wiped out.

The trade agreements so beloved of the leave fraternity, about which they talk so much and know so little, are the administrative equivalent of the dinosaur. These are 19th and 20th Century solutions. We need to move into the 21st Century – for which I offer eight key points, all spelt out in Flexcit. Britain can provide the leadership to take us there.

As we see from White Wedenesday, without him saying so specifically, is the paucity of ambition of the likes of Gove. Their narrow perspective keeps them locked into outworn and outdated ideas.

Years of study, and the free exchange of information that makes this blog so valuable, though, has led us to a far greater understanding of global systems and institutions. So while the general narrative remains bogged down, we are learning of such arcane details as WP.6, the International Model of Regulation and Common Regulatory Objectives. It's a whole new world out there – and we really do need to be part of it.

In all, we're offering an eight-point programme for kick-starting global trade, and then with our six demands for The Harrogate Agenda, numbers bring the presentation to a close. Still to come is the Q&A session, the filmed discussion between myself and Booker, and then the vox pop.

Richard North 11/05/2016 link

EU Referendum: what the bloggers say


Having missed out last week and then having been preoccupied with the Leave Alliance launch, the Brexit bloggers this week are producing a more than usually abundant crop. 

We start with Scribblings from Seaham who, in an entertaining piece, joins me in decrying our "supine media" who regularly parrot the latest utterances on the forthcoming referendum by those MPs who still do not realise that their views are of no consequence; and that, at the end of the day, it is the views of the British electorate that matter.

This is a good theme. Despite the many years the media have had to get used to the idea that there was to be a referendum on the EU, journalists still haven't fully understood that a referendum is about people voting, and that politicians have one vote, just like everyone else.

But SfS does refer to one of my recent articles where we again share a distaste for the media's latest ploy, turning what should be an issue-led debate into a grotesque game-show parody, effectively amounting to the "Dave and Boris Show". It becomes dominated by "he says – he says" arguments, with Dave lying his socks off and Boris uttering incomprehensible tosh.

This dovetails beautifully with White Wednesday's latest blog which has him commenting that voters are concluding that the referendum debate is poor and both sides are "not at all convincing".

It didn't help, writes White Wednesday that the "leave" side didn't have a clear workable plan for how they wanted to get out. Actually that was not quite true. There was indeed a very comprehensive and workable plan but because it contained a few things that some on the "leave" side didn't like, "they put their copy in an old cupboard weighted down with concrete and buried it out at sea under cover of darkness. Anyone who talked about it after that night got shouted at and had a bag put over their head".

Oddly enough, to one of our current posts, one commenter has added a reference to Saul Alinsky's seminal work, the Rules for Radicals published in 1971. Rule twelve of thirteen says: "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Never let the enemy score points because you're caught without a solution to the problem".

Almost everywhere it seems, there is a recognition that the campaign needs an exit plan, everywhere that is except amongst the noisemakers themselves, who rival the obstinacy of a pack of mules in refusing to put one on the table.

Mr Brexit, on the other hand notes that, for a number of weeks now several sources have said that Flexcit, has been doing the rounds in the higher reaches of the civil service.

While David Cameron and his pro-remain friends have been claiming no one has set out what "out" looks like, many around Whitehall have been reading and taking on board this supposedly non-existent Brexit plan.

Yesterday, in a sign that Flexcit has been hitting the mark, the Telegraph dropped this rather pleasing detail into a story about civil servants believing Brexit "could be seized upon by ministers as a liberating moment which would trigger a revolutionary shake-up of public policy":
According to one analysis, developing a Britain-specific deal is likely to take five years, running way beyond the two-year period between a country triggering the Article 50 exit clause and it being released from the European treaties.

As such, it is likely the UK would adopt a model similar to Norway's as holding position, before gravitating to a more bespoke arrangement, according to one scenario under discussion.
This, says WW is Flexcit in a nutshell. It's the staged process writ large.

Lost Leonardo then takes us to The Leave Alliance (TLA) launch, a network of new and established political groups, bloggers and tweeters who are committed to winning the EU referendum for the "leave" side.

What makes TLA unique among the declared leave groups is its support for a credible Brexit plan, Flexcit: The Market Solution. This is a six-phase plan for recovering Britain's national independence in stages, as part of a continuous process, rather than as a one-time event.

That change of perspective, says Lost Leonardo, shifts the Brexit debate firmly in the direction of pragmatic and practical politics. The exact form that our post-Brexit deal takes is less important than our vision for what we will do with our national independence.

Self-governance means taking responsibility unto ourselves and, if our politicians are any indication, a long process of discovery and rediscovery lies ahead.

So as to short cut the economics and trade-centred debate that has been allowed (some might say encouraged) to obscure the more important political question - who governs Britain? - the Flexcit plan advocates remaining in the Single Market and then working to create a genuine free trade area in Europe whilst also rebuilding the national policy-making framework and enhancing our democracy by means of The Harrogate Agenda.

Brexit Door, however, having already sorted the Leave Alliance, moves on to the Tampon Tax, urging his readers not to fall for what is in fact, a "trifling stunt". When you see this kind of nonsense, he writes, respond in the manner that it clearly deserves – blow it a bloody great raspberry! And then focus your attention the real issues and pay the politicians sideshows no further mind.

Before leaving the subject, however, we need to revisit Pete's blog and remind ourselves as to why tax was charged on tampon in the first place – alongside many other countries outside the EU.

The answer is depressingly simple in that it was grouped by the World Customs Organisation in a single taxable category of miscellaneous manufactured goods, alongside sanitary towels, napkins and napkin liners for babies and similar articles, of any material.

Bureaucratic inertia took over from there, and the product acquired a taxable status throughout the world, including the EU. And interestingly, while the UK was willing to be pushed around, in Australia there has been a rather different outcome, although Canada has been more amenable.

Red Cliffs of Dawlish runs one of his typically impressive posts, who remarks on the "baby-ification" of British Culture. One side of the argument is being driven by a Serial Liar and the other side by a Personification of Political Infantilism of our culture.

As for other blogs, The Sceptic Isle is bringing Flexcit to his readership, serialising the pamphlet, EU and Europe looks at Mr Cameron's lies – which should be exciting continued attention, while Semi-Partisan Politics spends time on a detailed examination of Iain Duncan Smith's resignation.

To conclude this review, we look at Pete North's latest blogpost, where he tells his readers to "start fighting like you mean it". This, like many others of his, is an uncompromising piece, which harks back to last Wednesday when two MPs were so offended by my comments about the unwillingness of the breed to challenge the Prime Minister for his lies to the House (and the nation at large).

Our elected representatives should be our line of defence against an over-mighty executive, but we are in a perverse situation where our MPs and MEPs think they are part of the government and it is their role to tell us what to do. Yet, like children, we roll over and acquiesce.

Somewhere along the line we have distorted the relationship whereby we look to such people as leaders rather than servants. That is why this referendum campaign has become so perverse, putting trust in people who know so little about anything.  

Rather than sucking up to the likes of Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell, we should despise these people for being part of the problem, says Pete. We should be ripping holes in their "worthless ideas" instead of rolling out the red carpet for them.

In this world, we don't want Boris Johnson, Duncan Smith, Grayling or Gove. We don't want Galloway or Farage either. We want rid of the whole lot of them. Brexit is our catalyst to do exactly that. So, Pete concludes, "start fighting like you mean it".

It's a sombre conclusion but one which strikes at the whole referendum campaign. We do need people to fight for themselves, to think for themselves and to make their own decisions. We are not there to serve politicians. They – nominally at least – should be our servants.

If we allow them to set the agenda, to decide for us how we think, if we allow them to take over this campaign, we are giving up the one opportunity we have to exercise our power as a united people. That's our choice and upon it rests our destiny. That will demonstrate whether we are even capable of being a functioning democracy.

We the people, as much as the government and its EU policy, are on trial.

Richard North 21/03/2016 link

EU Referendum: Leave Alliance launch


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Offering my very personal observations, I think the launch went exceeding well – a full house and standing room only, with excellent support from the Blogger's Army. My thanks to all who attended, making it a truly memorable event.

Amongst those there, I am told, were two Conservative MPs - I didn't see them, but I could barely see anything as I had camera lights in my face. Apparently, though, one of them stormed out midway through the session and the other was distinctly unhappy when he left. We must have been saying something right.

It was later suggested that I might moderate my language to avoid giving such people offence – resisting the temptation to call MPs "bovine". The theory is that, if we say nice things about them, they might be more sympathetic to our message.

But then, since the Prime Minister is now making a habit of lying to the House of Commons (and the nation), and not a single MPs has raised a point of order or laid a formal complaint with the Speaker, one struggles to find a suitable alternative description.

It seems to me that the MPs are there to defend our ancient rights and liberties. When they start doing their job properly, then might be the time for them to throw a strop because they are not getting the respect they think they deserve from the serfs.

Anyhow, for all the terrific outcome, personally the presentation was a bit of a trial. Courtesy of a broken-down train at Wakefield, my own train was an hour later into Kings Cross, forcing me to rush to the venue with only minutes to spare – hot and lathered. This is not the best way of setting oneself up for an important event.

Howsoever, with standing room only, there was certainly a buzz to the room, and we were able proudly to present the Brexit pamphlet – 48 pages in all. We hope to have it online shortly, and I'll let you know when it is available.

During the presentation, ably chaired by Niall Warry, we had John Ashworth from Restore Britain's Fish, give us his views – to a round of spontaneous applause. He too has a pamphlet published, which is available on the CIB website. I'll do a separate review on this.

There then followed presentations by Pete North on the Bloggers' Army, Niall on The Harrogate Agenda, Anthony Scholefield from Futurus, and Edward Spalton from the Campaign for Independent Britain (CIB). Robert Oulds was represented by Niall.

My talk was on strategy, bringing to the fore the idea of the "open DOR", outlining our three core tasks: to DEBUNK Dave's Dodgy Deal; to OFFER a credible alternative; and to REASSURE voters that our alternative is achievable and safe. That is the job of the Flexcit plan.

One could not avoid making certain observations as to the other campaign groups, none of which have publicly declared a strategy. Neither have any committed to a single exit plan. In the words of the Prime Minister, they seem to be making it up as they are going along.

On this matter, I see no need whatsoever – as some latterly suggested – to apologise for calling Mr Johnson an idiot. Those who wish for the man to be described otherwise might contemplate trying to stop him behaving like an idiot, causing totally unnecessary damage to the campaign.

Once again we are confronted with this bizarre double standard: it is apparently perfectly acceptable for Mr Johnson to conduct himself with all the finesse of a bull in a china shop, but somehow "offensive" for us to remark upon that – even when it is vitally necessary for us to distance ourselves from his stupidity, to avoid our own campaign being tainted by it.

Amongst the appeasers are some who believe we should present a united front, and not give the remains an opportunity to capitalise on what is deemed to be "bickering" by the leave groups. But we're not bickering. We're not arguing with the man. We're addressing his idiotic ideas, so idiotic that they have provided substance for three speeches by the Prime Minister. 

What we are doing is distancing ourselves, unequivocally and with utmost clarity, from a man who neither represents us nor has anything intelligent to say about the campaign. And if we need to say why, so be it. We are not playing games here. It really is about time we started calling a spade a spade.

This notwithstanding, it seemed only to be the MPs who took any great exception to my description of the man-child. Yet these were two people who were not actually invited by virtue of their office. They were not there to support Leave Alliance and have already done much to undermine it.

MPs in general need to understand that a referendum is a people's vote. In the ballot, they have exactly the same status as the rest of us, and their input into our campaign is neither asked-for nor wanted. On the other hand, we have something unique to offer. They would learn something by listening to us, especially as we are backed by the skills and dedication of our supporters and component groups.

Our knowledge and skills are hard won. We should not compromise them in attempts to curry favour with those who will never, under any circumstances, support us. The truth is that these people are seeking to silence us, or to bring our activities in line with their own lacklustre efforts. If they didn't have our "offensive" language as their justification for shunning us, they would find some other excuse.

In due course, we will have an edited video of the launch (we think about 2-3 weeks), which we'll post on YouTube. You can judge for themselves the merits of what was said. As you can guess, I was in a combative mood, but then I am so heartily sick of being dumped upon by the likes of Boris Johnson, only to be expected to grin and bear it. 

We owe these people nothing - and I really have had enough of it. I have seriously had enough of patronising little bubble-dwellers presenting themselves as doing me a personal favour by reading the first two pages of Flexcit (and that includes the title page). And I think I've had quite enough of them knowledgeably acquainting me with its faults, suggesting that if only I was nicer to them, they would kindly tell me what I've failed to understand about real politics.

Needless to say, despite all our efforts yesterday, we haven't gained any press coverage (not that I can see) – but it wouldn't have made any difference if we'd chosen a different day to the budget. This is exactly what I expected, but it will allow any number of pundits to express their superiority by telling us what we're doing wrong. 

But for all that, let it be said that yesterday we formally launched the Leave Alliance campaign – in front of people who matter. We don't know when the campaign will end. That'll be when we're out of the EU. Until then we keep fighting. 

Photo: Ben Kelly.

Richard North 17/03/2016 link

EU Referendum: countdown to launch


There is no short-term economic benefit from leaving the EU. There are no immediate savings to be made, and any expectations that goods will be cheaper in the shops, or that wages will somehow increase overnight are vastly overblown.

Any financial benefits accruing from leaving the EU will be slow in coming and, in many respects, will be expressed in a negative sense: i.e., "had we not left the EU things would be even worse than they are now".

However, it is fair to say that a primary concern for blue collar workers is whether they would be worse off on leaving, and it follows that if we could argue convincingly that we would all be better off, then this would be of powerful assistance to the "leave" campaign.

The big problem is that it is almost impossible to demonstrate a clear case, unequivocally showing that all or any groups would be better off. This is especially so when we are seeking to argue for stability, presenting the case that there would be very little material change to the UK immediately after leaving, or in the short- to medium-term.

Nevertheless, there are those who argue that there are large groups of people (and especially blue collar workers) who are entirely unmoved by high-flown issues such as sovereignty and questions of "who governs Britain". Such groups, it is said, will only vote to leave if we can offer them the prospect of immediate financial gain.

To do so, though, would be to sell the lie. We are making promises we can't keep. Furthermore, it exposes us – as we are seeing – to "he says, she says" exchanges with the "remains", where the arguments are getting bogged down in ever-more arcane detail, and even more strident disputes, as each side seeks to establish their positions.

The trouble is that, if large numbers of people are not going to respond to the higher calling, such as restoration (albeit only partially) of sovereignty, and we are unable to offer them any prospect of immediate financial gain, how then are we to motivate them to support the Brexit proposition?

If, ostensibly, there is no clear answer to this and we are confronted with an argument that we cannot possibly win, then the obvious answer is to change the framing of the debate. We should not entertain debates on matters where we cannot possibly win. We need to fight on ground of our own choosing.

Here, though, we have not even begun to make any progress in an area that is ripe for reform – the very nature of our government and the way we are governed.

Talk to many people who have actually thought about the subject – and that is an awful lot – and there will be no illusions about the deeply embedded dissatisfaction about the way we are governed, all in the context of a growing "anti politics" mood.

It was for this that The Harrogate Agenda was devised, the implementation of which is incompatible with continuing membership of the EU. A necessary consequence of adopting THA, therefore, would be Brexit.

Given that the benefits of implementing THA would be tangible – and some of them immediate – returning powers to the people and giving them much greater control over all manner of things, including taxation, this could be the missing element which motivates people to leave the EU.

Within the context of this referendum, though, there is neither the time nor the resource, nor even the necessary support amongst campaign groups, sufficient to spread the message and make an impact.

But then, this is not a surprise. Given that Chartism, on which THA is based, was always a slow burn, we expect it to be many decades before our Agenda begins to have any significant traction. If it was to have had an effect now, we should have started decades ago.

And that might end up being the omission which decide this referendum. After we lost the 1975 referendum, we should have started planning for the next, working out very carefully – using the experience gained - what was needed to win. To wait forty years before seeking to define our campaign, when a new referendum had already been announced, was never going to be a winning strategy.

Even fifteen years ago, when I first started suggesting that Ukip should be producing an "exit and survival plan" might have been long enough to have got something established. But with a referendum less than four months away, it is probably too late to lodge anything substantial in the public mind.

Assuming then that we have no way of re-energising the current debate, possibly the best – if not the only – thing we can do is learn the lesson that we should have taken home from the 1975 referendum, and apply it to not to this campaign but to the next – which needs to start the day after the results are declared.

This, of course, presumes that we are going to lose this referendum, and I am not yet prepared to concede defeat, especially with the Leave Alliance launch on Wednesday. We need to fight to the very last so that, even if we don't win, we put up a credible show.

Thus, on Wednesday, at 2.30pm at 1 Great George Street, we see the official start of our campaign. How long that campaign is going to take we do not know. But if the majority do not join us in a "leave" vote on 23 June, it will continue for as long as it takes to get the right result.

Richard North 15/03/2016 link

EU Referendum: a new version of Flexcit


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As Espen Barth Eide, former Norwegian foreign minister resorts to outright lies to make his case for the UK remaining in the EU, we publish here today the latest version of Flexcit (v. 24).

With over 30,000 downloads of previous editions, this is already having a significant impact on the debate, evidenced by the fact that the prime minister and others are going out of their way to attack the "Norway Option", when it is only this blog and Flexcit which are really promoting this option. None of the main "leave" campaigns have endorsed it, and very few others are pushing it.

Thus, for all their arrogant assumptions about setting the pace, it is to us that the "remains" are directing their attention – and unsurprisingly so as Flexcit represents the only credible and coherent attempt at producing a structured exit plan.

I've got to the stage now, though, where I am amused by the convoluted attempts of the legacy media and the self-appointed Vote Leave Ltd (among others) to ignore our plan. It even gets to the point where sympathetic journalists (including Booker) who name me in their pieces, find my name and any reference to my work removed by orders from on high.

Nevertheless, despite this pettiness, the Flexcit message is getting through. And in this edition we further refine the withdrawal strategy, grouping three options under the single heading of the "Market Solution", indicative of one of the core elements – protecting our participation in the Single Market as an interim measure.

What a lot of our critics have never realised is that there have always been two options in this grouping – right from the very start. We offered the "Norway Option" as the baseline, but in the event that we were blocked either from EFTA or EEA participation, we detail the so-called "shadow EEA", which gives us the equivalent package, but framed as a stand-alone bilateral agreement.

Newly added is the third option, which we call the "Australian process" – a unilateral declaration of regulatory convergence (and a commitment to maintain it), backed by a formal Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) on conformity assessment.

That, plus other elements, give us the right to access the Single Market, relying on WTO non-discrimination rules, which can be relied upon in the event that there is an unwillingness of EU negotiators to entertain a more elaborate agreement.

The particular advantage of the "Australian process" is that it provides the basis of a deal in the event that the EEA is broken up, with the EU offering EFTA (and other) states a form of associate membership.

The crucial element of the "Market Solution", however, is that it is an interim solution – intended only to facilitate a trouble-free, and speedy extraction from the EU, buying time to develop a longer-term settlement.

Most other pundits, offering their own (inferior) plans, then to stop at this point, whereas Flexcit continues to make it clear that withdrawal from the EU is not an event but a process.

Only the fundamentally ignorant could assert that we can undo over forty years of political and economic integration in one fell swoop. We argue that we need a phased withdrawal and offer six stages to achieve that, including one on domestic reform, which embodies The Harrogate Agenda.

And although we offer comsiderable detail on the initial withdrawal process, one of the more important and less recognised parts of Flexcit is stage three. It is there that we set out the parameters for breaking away from the Brussels-centric, supranational market administration, to build up a genuine European Single Market relying on intergovernmental cooperation, based on the institutions of UNECE, in Geneva.

This move recognises the effects of globalisation, and we argue that, through UNECE and other regional and global bodies, we can administer our international trading arrangements without having to subordinate ourselves to a treaty organisation which has as its main objective political integration.

The solution we this offer is truly innovative – but also immensely practical. But it is so far above the heads of most of the pundits that they are rarely able to cope with the ideas on offer. Most of them are trapped by their obsession with defining the exit process, unable to appreciate (or deal with) the idea of a phased withdrawal and continuous development.

On this, we (meaning the many people who have contributed to Flexcit) are no longer really interested in the bleating of the naysayers. The most strident critics have proved to be the ones who have either not read the document or have failed to understand it. Worst are those who pretend to have read it, but then demonstrate no familiarity with the contents, clearly having done nothing more than scan the pages. I see no point in wasting any time with these people. 

As to the future, we will of course, continue working on the document. It is and always has been a "living document", gradually evolving and taking on board comments and constructive criticism.

The current edition benefits from the heroic efforts of several readers in proof reading and correcting the copy – for which I am truly grateful. The copy is immeasurably better as a result.

There is also an additional chapter in this edition, bringing together material on financial services under one heading. I will probably add to this in the future, and do not rule out additional chapters on other policy areas.

Readers already familiar with the contents will notice many small updates and changes, and the text has been altered to reflect the change in the referendum question from "yes-no" to "remain-leave". I will continue the updating process and, in due course, will be publishing yet another edition.

The more immediate task, though, is to finish drafting the short version of Flexcit, which we hope to get down to about 35 pages, with the intention that it should be published by the Bruges Group to coincide with the formal launch of the RPG in the New Year.

In the meantime, I welcome – as always – comments and observations, especially those directed at making the document even better than it is. And in due course, we intend to submit this to the Electoral Commission as an example of what an exit plan should look like, ready to point out the manifest inadequacies in the efforts produced by others.

We make no apologies for this. The collective expertise of the contributors to this work exceeds that available to the totality of the current, formal "leave" groups and their hangers-on. By a country mile, Flexcit remains the best, most comprehensive exit plan available, and the determination of the media and others to ignore it says more about them and their own limitations than it does about us.

Flexcit is here to stay, and whether they like it or not, it will continue to set the terms of the debate.

Richard North 28/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: biding our time


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I was in London yesterday, attending the fourth formal meeting of the Referendum Planning Group (RPG). We represent now six groupings: CIB, Bruges Group, Futurus and The Harrogate Agenda, plus and now, Restore Britain's Fish, formerly Save Britain's Fish, with John Ashworth at the helm.

Contrary to Arron Banks's claims, none of us have formally joined his grouping and, if anything, our resolve to pursue an application with the electoral Commission for designation as the lead "leave" campaigner has strengthened. And, although we are totally under the media radar (which is the way we want it for the moment), we represent between us many thousands of activists. 

Yesterday, we were discussing whether and when to launch our group publicly. However, while it was initially pencilled in for November, we have decided to delay it until February, on the basis that the noise level is too high at the moment. It will also give us more time to produce the short version of Flexcit, which we aim to publish at the time of the launch.

Our reason for pursuing the lead designation is that neither of the two high profile groups – nor Ukip – represent the entirety of the "eurosceptic" community. Furthermore, none of the groups are capable of planning and execute an effective "leave" campaign.

If we were to gain the designation, we would inject the missing component to the campaign – an effective strategy. But to ensure that the full range of activists is represented, we would act as a commissioning agent, contracting campaigning activities and functions to any group which is prepared to carry them out, and which we judge competent to do so.

By this route, we will be effectively offering the Electoral Commission the opportunity to force the different factions to work together. We would hold the £7 million expenses quota and, without our assent, other groups will not be able to incur expenses in excess of £700,000 during the referendum period.

When it comes to running the campaign, one of our strongest suits is that we are the only group to have adopted Flexcit, and thus are the only group promoting a comprehensible and credible exit plan. We will, therefore, be telling the Electoral Commission that we are the only group will be able to satisfy the statutory test of adequacy. None of the other groups have credible exit options.

We will also be able to point to a number of egregious failures, such as the ill-advised focus on EU costs by Vote Leave Ltd. This has spectacularly backfired as the claims have been contradicted, leaving us with a tedious squabble that is going nowhere.

The worry is that such inept campaigning will be reflected in the polls (and the final result). We are thus looking carefully to see whether any trends develop, such as that which may be emerging from ICM. 

In September, the company was recording 43 percent voting to remain in the EU, with 40 percent wanting to leave. Now, after a month of intensive campaigning and two launches by "leave" groups, the same pollster records 45 percent wanting to remain, and 36 in favour of leaving. 

If this does become a trend, we will be telling the electoral Commission simply cannot afford to have these groups making the running. Even their silence would be a better option.

Richard North 14/10/2015 link

EU Referendum: not just another meeting


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So, with an eye to maximising publicity, Mr Farage yesterday decided to tell the world that Ukip was launching its campaign "on the ground" from the beginning of September. He is, we are told, to "mobilise a people's army" in favour of leaving the European Union, and will launch hundreds of public meetings.

Mr Farage was of the view that the referendum could be held as early as "March or April", and if he believes that, then that explains why he is in such a rush to get things moving, telling the "no" side that it needs to "get off its backside". It needs to do two things, he says: to "get cracking" and "come together".

However, in one thing, Mr Farage is certainly wrong. There will be no referendum in March or April, nor in June. It seems unlikely that there can be one before October of next year, while we maintain that the most probable date is October 2017.

On this basis, we believe that to ramp up the campaign early is premature - and potentially harmful. Given the need for a grand strategy, the time would be better spent working on this, and then organising and training our side, better to execute the campaign.

Crucially, before we commit ourselves to a strategy, we need a clearer idea of what Mr Cameron is planning, especially if "associate membership" becomes a reality. If it does, and there is a second referendum to follow, this will be a game changer. It will demand a precise and measured response.

Sadly, it is not within our capability to influence Mr Farage. He set his face against anything we might have to offer over a decade ago, having decided that the way to success was though gaining MPs in Westminster, a strategy that has yet to produce results.

Nevertheless, that does not mean there is nothing we can do, or that we have to stand idle while Farage insists executing what appears to be a strategy-free campaign.

Essentially, if we are in for the long haul, then we need a group of campaigners who can act as a backstop, to block the gaps left by the orthodox campaigners. We need people capable of stepping in, long after the early starters have peaked, with an intelligence-led response to developments as they occur.

To that effect, with the support and generous sponsorship of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the Referendum Planning Group (RPG) is convening a workshop at the Woodland Grange Hotel in Leamington Spa, on 12 September.

The workshop numbers are limited, but it is open to all those who want to take an active part in the campaign and are capable of organising and building their operations for activation when the time is right.

While there will be a number of formal campaigning groups – and an official "no" campaign - we will be looking for organisers who can set up additional, autonomous groups, to augment official activities. These groups, in our view, need to be function-orientated, capable of taking rapid and effective action in areas where larger, formal groups are unable to operate.

Our preliminary agenda for the workshop splits the day into four parts, starting at 10am and finishing at 4pm. In the morning, we will start with an outline of RPG's intellectual base and, for the second part, we will look at campaign structures. After lunch, we will kick off with presentations by existing activists, represented by the CIB, the Bruges Group,, Futurus and The Harrogate Agenda.

Then we plan to turn the meeting over to our potential volunteers, to hear from them as to how they think they can contribute to the campaign, what they need from us, and how best we can all work together.

I would stress that we are not planning to go into competition with other groups – this is for self-starters who are not happy working within the framework of traditional, hierarchical groups. We are looking at cell structures, on the lines of a guerrilla army, capable of identifying the enemy's weak points and acting decisively without needing external leadership.

For the day, we are asking for a contribution of £25 from each attendee, although there are a number of sponsored places for those with limited means.

The day, though, is for the independently-minded, those who do not want to be bystanders in the coming campaign. If you want to punch above your weight and make your contributions count, Leamington Spa on 12 September is the place to be.

Admin is being handled by Dorothy Davis. If you are interested, you can contact her by e-mail via this link in order to make a booking. We look forward to seeing you there.

Richard North 31/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: widening the research base


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I've been doing a bit of thinking. Instead of always reacting to the Europhile arguments, we should be taking the initiative and breaking open their claims with some in-depth studies of our own. But we can only do this is we can get past the basics and start focusing on these instead of rehearsing ancient arguments.

With some powerful minds in play - and with Owen Paterson beginning take control of the agenda - I am at last a little hopeful that we can see an end to some of the internal squabbling, and the next few weeks could be pivotal. If some semblance of unity is possible, it will be these people, with the ExCom (as we much now call it), who will make it possible.

But our own group, the Referendum Planning Group (RPG) will also have had an important part to play. Niall Warry, of The Harrogate Agenda, Edward Spalton of the CIB, Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group, and Anthony Scholefield, with his Futurus think tank, have all been putting in a massive amount of unpaid work, all directed at making an effective campaign happen.

That said, we will continue to see creative tensions, and it is the constant flow and exchange of ideas on this blog which gives me so much encouragement and inspiration. That's even (or especially) when I'm dealing with my own "black dog", or in throat-ripping mode with the sheer frustration of trying to overcome the obstacles and push the agenda forward.

But what brings all this to a head is a piece in yesterday's Financial Times, one picked over on twitter, as it is another of those FUD pieces on the car industry, this one headed: "German carmakers raise fears over Brexit".

The article itself has carmakers worried about disruption of supply chains, and then lets Matthias Wissmann, president of the VDA, the German carmakers' association, tell us that:
Britain would no longer be part of the single market. And questions of regulation would have to be negotiated, as we do now with Switzerland, between the UK and the EU. This could lead to difficulties on both sides.
This is entirely typical of the genre but, if the Eurosceptic community were united behind a determination to continue participation in the single market after we leave the EU, then this sort of claim, by now, would have withered on the vine. Instead, in the face of so many Eurosceptic factions which actually want us out of the single market, we are left with the weary task of shouting from the margins that we can maintain the single market, and none of the manufacturers' concerns would materialise.

Furthermore, when it comes to regulatory issues, we know full well that the bulk of vehicle regulation is now coming from UNECE, and the WP.29 agreements, to which both the EU and the UK are contracting parties. There is little chance under any circumstances, therefore, that we will lose regulatory convergence, so there would be few "questions of regulation" which would arise.

Given the Flexcit scenario, therefore, the effects on the car industry if Britain left the EU would be neutral – and that applies to continental car-makers as well.

However, over term, we have seen endless propaganda from the pro-EU press, such as in the Guardian and the Financial Times, with a thoroughly dishonest report commissioned by the SMMT arguing that "Europe is fundamental to the current and future success of the UK automotive industry".

When I was researching for this piece, though, I started to get a glimmer of a different vision which, far from supporting this claim, actually completely contradicts it. The UK car industry could very well be much better off outside the EU. Leaving would not be neutral but actively beneficial.

Nevertheless, the essence of this argument is complex. As it stands, the volume market in Europe is vastly over-supplied and competition is high, while car owners, taking advantage of improved manufacturing standards, are keeping their cars longer. As a result, there is enormous price pressure and, while production is expanding, overall profitability is poor.

For the industry, there are different ways of addressing this, but one way is to take advantage of the EU's single market (which for tariff purposes also includes Turkey) and move production to low-cost plants in eastern or central Europe of to Turkey. This is a trend which is expected to continue. It is even happening with high end production.

On the other hand, a way Britain can improve national revenue is to re-shore component manufacture, as we see from the Telegraph which tells us that only about a third of the parts that go into cars made in Britain are sourced here. By comparison, we are told, the figure in Germany is about 60 percent.

The German situation is presented as if this was a good thing, and efforts are being made to grow the UK supply chain. But one gets a clue from this report from the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) that it is not such a good idea.

ECIPE sees that lack of globalisation as a bad thing, partially explained by EU tariffs on car components and manufacturing equipment. Tariffs, it says, have more prohibitive effects on car supply chains due to the low margins and the vast number of technologies and components that are involved.

Given the variety of components and the vast number in each car (up to 30,000), it is unlikely that components are best sourced from one country or even one region. Tariffs put EU manufacturers "in a disadvantaged position".

Rather than protecting EU components and machinery manufacturers - since the R&D efficiency in the EU on average is lower, and better technologies are available from subcontractors abroad – we end up paying more for less-advanced components.

By leaving the EU, we are able to widen our sourcing and take advantage of the global supply chain. The net result is that we are able to make better, cheaper cars, improving our competitive position. And there is good evidence that, by transferring work to global suppliers, competitiveness improves. It also improves access to emerging markets - if we buy components from emerging markets, they tend to be more inclined to buy our cars. 

What we lose in low-value component production, therefore, we gain in increased sales of finished vehicles and improved profitability. It is the need to improve profitability which is the greatest challenge and, if the UK industry can do that, we stand a better chance of keeping indigenous production. If plants are profitable, there is less temptation to move them to low-cost production centres.

Absolutely to nail this case would vastly strengthen the "no" campaign, but instead of doing this type of ground-breaking research, we and others are constantly having to devote our energies on revisiting the same issues, and going back to fight the same battles, all because there is no agreement on the basics.

Essentially, therefore, there is an urgent need to settle the basics, so that we can widen our own research base, and start doing real damage to the opposition. But if we keep getting dragged back to rehearse the same old arguments, instead of moving on, this ain't going to happen.

As for the scaremongering on the car industry, the evidence indicates that we are more like to lose our industry than keep it, if we stay in the EU.

Richard North 04/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: the fight goes on


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I buried a friend yesterday – or would have but for the fact that, these days, people are rarely buried. Instead, one attends dreary crematoriums. They don't have the same feel as a proper church followed by the graveside ceremony. And, despite the care taken to make everything as tasteful and dignified as possible, I hate them.

More to the point, I hated the reason for my being there in Darlington crematorium – the untimely death of Peter Troy from a massive heart attack, suffered at the beginning of last month only days before he had been due to chair a Flexcit seminar in the Farmers' Club in London.

The seminar, held on 29 April, had been Peter's idea. He had arranged it at short notice as a possible way of encouraging potential members of a new group we were in the process of creating, in the hope that they would take to Flexcit, once they knew a little more about it.

This had not been the first Flexcit seminar. That had been organised by Peter in Harrogate in June last year, where he is photographed with a very hot North and our co-sponsors. Its purpose was to give me a chance to air an as then incomplete work in front of a live audience, better to gauge my approach and improve the work.

A revised and improved version was then aired in Dawlish on 26 September last year. Peter, with customary energy, not only organised it but arranged to have the proceedings filmed. He then produced a superb video which continues to be available online - now with nearly 5,000 views.

In Peter's absence in London last moth, the third seminar was chaired by Edward Spalton, current Chairman of the Campaign for an Independent Britain (CIB). Edward was there at the funeral yesterday, to pay his respects. But, as it happened, none of the people we wanted to convince actually deigned to turn up to the seminar, but it was well-attended by an enthusiastic group of supporters. They gave us the confidence to go ahead with the group we were planning, in which Peter had played a crucial part.

The group, I can now reveal, is called the Referendum Planning Group (RPG). We plan a formal launch in October, and the current membership includes Edward Spalton, Anthony Scholefield, representing his Futurus think tank (also in the Harrogate photo), Robert Oulds of the Bruges Group, Niall Warry representing The Harrogate Agenda and myself representing

However, in this case, the group owes its existence to an original initiative by David Phipps, now Scribblings from Seaham, also from last June. Worried by the fractured nature of the eurosceptic movement, he sought to broker a meeting of all eurosceptic groups. The aim was to help prepare a referendum campaign, should Mr Cameron's Conservatives come to power (as indeed they did).

Despite the invitation being completely open-ended, distressingly few groups responded. Of those that did, some have fallen away, unable to accept a premise that we should coalesce around a single draft plan, and work towards its completion, as part of the basis for an effective campaign.

Instead, the dissidents argued that we should form a group with no commitment to any plan and then undertake "prolonged discussions" in an attempt to reach agreement on the way forward. Should we not agree, the idea was then that all the members would promote their own plans, under the single umbrella of the group.

It was Peter Troy who took over the organisation of the RPG and did his very best to bring the other groups on board. But it was not to be. As he lay stricken and the seminar went ahead, it became clear to us that, if there was to be an RPG, it would have to start off with its five committed members. Thus, at a recent meeting in London, just before Peter's untimely demise, we decided to go ahead, using Flexcit as a draft component of our planning.

The idea of the group is, as its title indicates, to plan a referendum campaign. It is not intended that it should, in itself, be a campaigning group. We intend it to be more of a facilitator which will help its component members prepare a submission to the Electoral Commission, seeking designation as the lead "no" campaigner.

We have no illusions as to the difficulties involved. And, despite the assumptions of other (now multiple) groups that they are the natural heirs to the "no" crown, we will work with anyone who is prepared to put the needs of the campaign first. We are more than happy to add our considerable expertise and skills to the common cause.

However, were he still here, Peter himself could affirm that we will not accept a subordinate status, where we are required to fall in with the diktats of any self-appointed London élite, or anyone else, and become their obedient serfs. And nor will we be ignored.

The point he made to me so many times was that there are thousands of people who, over the decades, have collectively expended hundred of thousands of hours and untold wealth in the fight for freedom. They have earned the right to be directly involved in the campaign.

In memory of Peter Troy, but also in deference to the stalwart men and women of this country who have fought and are fighting so hard, we must resist assumptions that anyone has a God-given right to the leadership role. Nor can we accept that the campaign is the plaything of an as yet unknown multi-millionaire, or even that it is the property of Ukip. To be successful, it must be a people's campaign, and who takes the lead slot is for the Electoral Commission to decide.

We expect the Electoral Commission to recognise that the ordinary people of England (and our colleagues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) deserve fair and equal participation in the "no" campaign. We will fight alongside anyone in the common cause, but as equals and not subordinates. We've had enough subordination from Brussels.

With his work on Flexcit and his intense pursuit of a functioning Referendum Planning Group, that aspiration is further on than it might otherwise have been. We will miss Peter's energy, his dedication and his commitment most dreadfully. But the fight goes on.

Richard North 16/06/2015 link

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